Recap and review of The Walking Dead – Season 3 Episode 6 – Hounded
Season three of The Walking Dead has thrived, so far, in a way that is different from its previous two seasons through the more clearly-defined arc being presented: these aren’t simply people struggling to survive from one day to the next. At least, they aren’t just trying to survive. What’s different about this season, and episodes like tonight’s “Hounded”, is in how vividly the show illustrates the concept of hope as a driving force. It shouldn’t really be that surprising that a show about a zombie-plagued world would often feel saturated with a sense of hopelessness. And yet, I tend to find myself unnerved by how bleak and uncompromising the show’s world is.
I’m not saying it shouldn’t be that way, since it would be comically inappropriate for the show to adopt a “sunshine and rainbows” approach. Yet The Walking Dead, despite its status as a cultural phenomenon, has often suffered from a narrative with no ostensible goal other than to survive. Such an atmosphere can tend to feel oppressive when there’s no end in sight, no pot of gold to aim for at the end of a rainbow that’s merely different shades of grey. Things aren’t really getting any better for our survivors, nor for the world in which they live, so what’s the point? And what’s our investment in any of these characters beyond their immediate situation? As it turns out, our investment is not in how they continue to find ways to survive in this increasingly savage world, but in how the savagery of their world changes or defines them. Season three has done an excellent job, to a certain extent, of redefining the mission statement of the series. It’s not just enough to survive anymore. There has to be something more out there, something worth striving for, or else there isn’t much point in soldiering on. It’s as if the show is arguing that quality of life is every bit as valuable as life itself. Because, really, what is a life without hope?
Of course, this theme of hope runs throughout “Hounded” as little more than subtext, and the episode is better for that subtlety, since I don’t think the episode would have been as effective if this subject matter had been dealt with in a heavy-handed fashion, particularly when you take into account how our primary protagonist, Rick (Andrew Lincoln), has gone completely off the reservation following Lori’s death. After last week’s episode-long therapeutic killing spree, the prison receives a phone call, and Rick, naturally, is the one to answer. On the other end of the line is a woman, who claims to have been calling different phone numbers for God only knows how long, hoping someone might answer, hoping that anyone might still be out there. The woman says that she and her people are in a safe haven, a place where there are no attacks, there are no walkers, and no one ever hurts anyone else. At first listen, we might suspect the woman is talking about Woodbury, but she claims she can’t tell Rick where they are. It’s a security measure, and there are processes to getting admitted into their sanctuary. And so the woman claims she’ll talk to her boss while Rick pleads with her to grant them entry, his desperation dripping through the line. The person who calls back, however, is very different from the woman who called earlier. He takes an interrogatory tone with Rick, trying to ascertain who he is, where he is, how many are with him, and how many people he’s killed, and why. Rick is forthcoming with everything the man wants to know, except for how he lost his wife. The anguish in Andrew Lincoln’s performance when the caller hangs up on him for withholding that bit of information is outstanding, and adds to Lincoln’s already-stacked resume of fine work this season.
I never figured the character of Rick Grimes to be a man of nuance, as he often came across as a standard, straight-faced good guy, with little or no variance in that portrayal. Yet Andrew Lincoln has done wonders in imbuing Rick, this season, with a genuine feeling of pathos that wasn’t there before. Rick needs to believe that there is a safe haven out there. He needs to have something to hope for, or he won’t be able to go on. These are all elements that can be read in the performance. Now, it could just be that the new creative forces behind the show have a better sense of the story they want to tell, but this feels like an entirely different class of performance than Lincoln has given before. Whatever the reason for it, I’m glad Andrew Lincoln is delivering each week.
That said, of all the possibilities of who might be on the other line, it never occurred to me that the answer would ultimately end up being nobody. Other things that didn’t occur to me: that, in spite of this reveal, the storyline would be so damn effective in charting Rick’s grieving process and illustrating his own complicated feelings over Lori’s loss and his failures as a leader. I understand that it was slightly different in the graphic novel, but still followed along the same general trajectory (i.e., Rick is delirious with grief, and is confronting his emotions by giving them a voice). Rick doesn’t initially realize he’s going crazy, although Hershel (Scott Wilson) seems to notice when he comes to visit Rick, and discovers that there’s nothing but dead air on the other end of the line, with not even a dial tone to suggest that a phone call could ever successfully cross the channel. However, Hershel doesn’t voice these suspicions, and simply leaves Rick to negotiate his grief in his own way, and on his own time, after Rick rejects his company. It’s one of the most genuine character moments of the episode, right up there with Rick’s guilty, tear-soaked talk with the voice of Lori on the other end of the phone line, asking her forgiveness, and telling her how much he loved her. It’s powerful in a way I wasn’t used to seeing from The Walking Dead before season three. About the closest the series came to this kind of emotional resonance was in the barn reveal with Sophia, and even then, it felt like we were meant to care about her in the abstract, as an innocent little girl, and less out of any overt attachment we’d formed with her as a character. Rick is different, though, as we’ve seen him go from uncompromising hero to wounded, world-weary, broken man in what feels like a very short time (even though, in the show’s world, it’s been nearly a year since the events of season two). It’s a harrowing change, made all the more prominent by the end of this episode, when Rick comes out of his experience a changed man, as though a burden has been lifted from his shoulders. He holds his newborn daughter and speaks with Carl briefly, and it’s as if he’s been given a new life. Or, at the very least, the hope of something more.
As it happens, the episode has plenty of interesting developments beyond Rick’s plot, as Andrea (Laurie Holden) succumbs to the seductions of The Governor (David Morrissey). While this seems like a convenient plot development, it’s actually a lot more interesting when you take into consideration how Andrea is being seduced at an ideological level as well. It isn’t simply that she’s sleeping with The Governor, but that she’s also admitting that the brutal, “Might is right” approach of The Governor is a view she tacitly endorses. They are two people who love “the fight”, even though “the fight” has taken away something precious from both of them (for Andrea, her sister, Amy; for The Governor, his daughter – and that’s only from what we’ve seen of his private life). While Andrea made a show of being repulsed by the zombie boxing ring from last week, it’s easy to see how the visceral thrill of killing, if not subjugating, the walkers leaves her with a sense of empowerment that’s intoxicating. She had way too much fun hopping down off The Wall to kill a rogue walker that easily could have been sniped from a safe distance. But she’s gripped by the power she has in this world, which she lacked as a lobbyist lawyer in her former life. I like the concept of Andrea as someone who’s addicted to power, and whose relationship with The Governor could lead to a more substantial conflict between The Governor’s army and Rick’s group, down the line.
As for the clash between Rick’s group and the citizens of Woodbury, we get our first crossover. While Merle (Michael Rooker) is out hunting for Michonne (Danai Gurira), who is injured by a stray bullet to the leg from one of Merle’s cronies, we begin the process of drawing the two different story threads of season three together. Merle tracks Michonne to the town that separates Woodbury from the prison. Maggie (Lauren Cohan) and Glenn (Steven Yeun) are on a supply run, primarily to pick up formula for Rick’s baby, and the setup is too idyllic for events not to end badly: the sun is out; the town looks almost normal, from a distance; Glenn kisses Maggie deeply; Maggie rejoices in what a great day it is; the couple goes “grocery shopping”, taking in the relatively calm atmosphere. And then the other shoe drops: Merle spots them, and while he plays nice initially, asking Glenn if Daryl really is alive, things quickly turn sour. Merle demands to be taken back to their camp, but Glenn refuses, telling Merle to wait in town while they fetch Daryl and bring him back to meet with his brother. Merle draws his gun, a brief shootout ensues, and Merle gets hold of Maggie. Glenn has no choice but to do what Merle says and drive them all back to Woodbury. Michonne has seen this all from a safe distance, choosing not to interfere due to her injury, and also from the uncertainty of who she’s dealing with (we know Glenn/Maggie are good people, but for all Michonne knows they’re just as bad as Merle, except with a different boss).
However, Michonne overhears Glenn talking about having come from a camp just up ahead, and so Michonne, splattere in walker gore, which serves as camouflage to the walkers’ senses (a callback to season one!), makes her way to the prison, arriving behind a group of walkers who don’t notice her presence. It’s a killer closing image, as Michonne could pass for a walker at first glance, except that she’s holding the basket of formula that Maggie and Glenn had set out to retrieve. Ultimately, it looks like Rick just got himself a new badass for his crew. But it doesn’t stop there (well, the episode does, but the intrigue doesn’t). In another amusing development off of this storyline, The Governor opts not to tell Andrea about Maggie and Glenn when Merle returns to inform The Governor that he’s captured two friends of Andrea’s. Whether this creates friction between Andrea and The Governor, or if The Governor plays upon Andrea’s blossoming Stockholm Syndrome to get her to switch sides, the choice will surely have major repercussions going forward.
In other developments, Daryl (Norman Reedus), Oscar (Vincent Ward), and Carl (Chandler Riggs) sweep the lower levels of the prison, and during the outing, Daryl attempts to relate to Carl’s sense of loss by offering the story of how he lost his own mother. As it turns out, she liked to smoke in bed, and fell asleep with a cigarette in her mouth one night, burning down the house with her inside, leaving nothing of herself behind but ashes. This write-up does a disservice to how effective this scene was, and Daryl continues to be one of the show’s strongest characters, full-stop. After telling Daryl how he had to put Lori down himself, Carl says, “I’m sorry about your mother.” Daryl replies, “And I’m sorry about yours.” It’s a moment with real warmth, and is one of the most effective character moments in the series, brief though it is. Daryl is remarkably human, even as the situations around him grow more extraordinary, and his strength as a character is in how he retains that humanity in spite of all that happens. When he discovers Carol’s knife in a walker’s face, down near the solitary confinement cells, Daryl begins to fear the worst, particularly when he hears a rattling in one of the cells.
Fearing that Carol (Melissa McBride) has turned and that he’ll now have to put down someone he cares about, Daryl sits with Carol’s knife and psyches himself up for what he’s about to find on the other end of the door. He doesn’t seem to hold out much hope that he isn’t going to find Walker Carol on the other side, since he once had hope for Sophia, and that didn’t exactly turn out great for anyone. So why should this situation be any different? It’s a tremendous bit of acting from Norman Reedus, and a wonderfully-staged moment, building up to the drama of the reveal: Carol is behind the door, but she isn’t turned. As Daryl lifts the tired, weak, starving Carol into his arms, it serves as a singular image of hope in an episode permeated with realizations of hope throughout: Rick recognizing that he has to solider on and find a better life for the family remaining to him; Andrea embracing the hope of a normal world that Woodbury represents; Michonne realizing that there’s still other camps, other potential safe zones out there other than Woodbury; and Daryl, who discovers that not every scenario has to have the most horrific outcome possible.
“Hounded” depicts survivors ravaged by their own sense of hopelessness, and choosing to beat back that sense of defeat instead of succumbing to the bleakness that surrounds them. It’s one of the best episodes in a pretty remarkable season, so far, and one that provides hope for the season as we get closer to the midpoint finale. There are plenty of conflicts on building steam, and if The Walking Dead has shown itself capable of anything this season, it’s the ability to ratchet up the tension from one week to the next, while finding resonant emotional conflicts upon which the show can hang its hat. At the end of the day, these elements come together rather beautifully to make television that is far more rewarding than your average genre fare.
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